Breach-of-trust convictions made tougher

To be found guilty of breach of trust, a public office holder must not only show a "marked departure" from acceptable standards of conduct, but also act with a conscious intent that smacks of "dishonesty, corruption, partiality (or) oppression."

The Toronto Star
June 14, 2006

Breach-of-trust convictions made tougher
Supreme Court overturns ex- police chief's guilty verdict. Rules criminal culpability requires clear, conscious intent.
Jim Brown

The Supreme Court of Canada, saying there's a difference between being unethical and being a criminal, has tightened the legal rules to make it tougher to convict politicians and public servants of breach of trust.

In a 7-0 ruling yesterday, the court overturned a previous guilty verdict against Denis Boulanger, the former police chief of Varennes, Que.

He was charged after asking a subordinate to write a traffic accident report that helped clear the chief's daughter of blame for insurance purposes.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for the court, said there's no doubt the breach-of-trust law reflects an "ancient and important" principle - that public officials have a duty to use their offices for public good, not private benefit.

"This duty lies at the heart of good governance. It is essential to retain the confidence of the public in those who exercise power."

But that doesn't mean office holders are guilty of a crime every time they commit a transgression.

"Perfection has never been the standard for criminal culpability in this domain."

The judgment marks the first time the Supreme Court has laid out detailed guidelines on breach of trust since the offence was written into the Criminal Code in the 1890s.

The law is worded broadly enough to cover virtually every public servant and politician in the country, from the local dog catcher to the prime minister. But it has been interpreted by different judges in different ways for more than a century.

McLachlin said Boulanger was in a conflict of interest, may have violated the code of ethics for Quebec police officers, and could be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

But the legal test for a criminal conviction should set the bar higher.

To be found guilty of breach of trust, a public office holder must not only show a "marked departure" from acceptable standards of conduct, but also act with a conscious intent that smacks of "dishonesty, corruption, partiality (or) oppression."

In Boulanger's case, there was no evidence the police traffic report was inaccurate, fraudulent or misleading, even though it was clearly beneficial to the chief and his daughter.

The chief's actions weren't serious enough, or his intent clear enough, to support a criminal conviction, said McLachlin.

She took pains to point out that breach of trust isn't the only sanction available to guard against official misconduct.

There are a "range of regulations, guidelines and codes of ethics to which officials are subject, many of which provide for serious disciplinary sanctions."

There is also a Criminal Code prohibition of influence peddling.

CANADIAN PRESS


Brought to you by WikidFranchise.org

Risks: Breach of trust, Influence peddling, Conflict of interest, Corruption, Canada, 20060714 Breach-of

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License